Theresa and her husband own a tea and coffee farm in Nyeri, Kenya. She is Kikuyu and teaches music and English literature at a boarding school for girls. I met Theresa through my husband, who had been playing an online word game with her. We spoke through email. The photos are hers.
My Conversation with Theresa
It is spring in Illinois. What is it like in Kenya?
Very nice. In the 70s. At this time of the year, coffee is coming to the end of the season. The rains are needed for the tea and we just planted staple foods; maize, beans, and other vegetables as we are experiencing the season called "Short Rains."
How many people work on your farm?
I have a farm manager who oversees everything. Under his supervision, I have a herdsman responsible for the livestock, the farm laborers who take care of the coffee and tea, vegetable gardens, chicken coop, and other small jobs. The number of laborers varies from season to season depending on how much work there is.
What is the hardest part of their job?
Being outside in the very cold months of late June to August. Picking coffee or tea in the early morning when it is very cold. Gloves do not help because they get wet from the morning dew.
Describe a perfect day in Kenya.
On a weekend, right before dawn, when it is so quiet except for the crickets and the last rooster’s crow. I open my bedroom window and watch the sun springing up slowly from the peaks of Mount Kenya. I love to watch the red, orange, yellow bright skies when the weather is agreeable. I also enjoy the huge morning sun as it changes colors until it becomes the small too bright circle unbearable for us to look at. Then I listen as the world wakes up. I hear the moos of the cows, the chirping from the weaverbirds, the car horns from the road, the bleating of the sheep, and the muted sounds of humans before they are awake enough to acknowledge the new day.
Are there many animals living in the wild where you live?
A long time ago, all this part of the country was pure animal country until settlers came to make ranches and villages pushing animals deeper into the forest. These animals roamed freely between the Aberdare Ranges and Mount Kenya.
When people settled in between these two landmarks, they were settling in paths that were animal "superways" created long before the invasion of man in animal territory. Elephants, known for their superior memory, never forgot their route and on rare occasions have followed the same route twice in the last 10 years. I'm not exactly sure how many were in each herd. On these occasions, they are "escorted" by wildlife helicopters until they reach their destination.
What brings you joy?
When my family sits together and talks about nothing. . . and everything. When I see one of my students doing today what she could not do yesterday. When my children call, not because they need to but because they want to.
What do you worry about?
That my children are growing up and leaving, though I am happy for them and their accomplishments. That the cold weather is here. That my back still hurts. That I will not be around forever...so I live today as fully as I can.
What is your impression of America?
That it was a great country. In striving for political correctness, America is losing credibility.
What stereotypes or myths about Africa would you like to dispel?
I wish that Americans and the rest of the world would see Kenya and other African countries for what we really are and not through the eyes of Hollywood movies. Africa is not all "Tarzan" neither is it all "Coming to America."
If you could speak to anyone, living or deceased, who would that be and what would you say?
I would talk to my little sister, Mercy, who died not long ago. I would ask her if she really had to go.
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